Viewpoint: Superintendent takes issue with schedule storyFirst off, let me say how disappointed I was with the reporting in last week’s Bulletin on the new schedule that has been adopted for the 2010-11 school year at our three district high schools.
By: Tom Nelson, Viewpoint Writer, Woodbury Bulletin
First off, let me say how disappointed I was with the reporting in last week’s Bulletin on the new schedule that has been adopted for the 2010-11 school year at our three district high schools. I would like to take this opportunity to set the record straight.
The article raised several points that need responding to:
• Why has a change in schedule at our high schools been made?
The school district is responding to changes in the graduation requirements being established by the state of Minnesota. Beginning last year for reading and this year for mathematics, our students will need to pass graduation tests at thresholds established by the state. In the current block schedule many students are not in math all year long. A student may be testing for graduation and have not been in a math course for a few months and maybe up to a year. We are attempting to line our course requirements and schedule to be aligned with the state exams. This will give our students the best opportunity to do well on the tests and ultimately graduate. The schedule change was proposed for academic reasons and concerns about having ISD 833 students better prepared for graduation exams. These are high stakes tests for our students and demands a schedule to prepare our students to be awarded a diploma.
• Can a student get a high quality education in a six-period schedule?
Absolutely. Some of the best high schools in the state of Minnesota are on a six-period schedule. A majority of the school districts we like to compare ourselves with are on six-period schedules. Edina, Stillwater and Mounds View students are on a six-period schedule, get a very good education and get into the colleges and universities of their choice. If I believed that changing to a different schedule would have a negative impact on our students’ academic performance, I would oppose the change. That is not the case.
• The article attempts to tie money to the decision.
The changes are being made for academic reasons, but money is always a part of our decision making process. I told the committees that we could not spend more money than we are currently spending today on secondary school schedules. It would be foolish to put schedules in place that we know today we cannot sustain into the future. Each schedule task force, middle school and high school, went about their work separately with the main purpose to develop a schedule recommendation that met students’ academic needs. The end result was the high school group recommending a 6X3 schedule and the middle school an 8X3 schedule. What do you know, for once the finances worked out and the recommendations worked. The high school group could have brought a recommendation to maintain the block (4X4) schedule and this would have created a financial problem, but it did not. The committee made an academic decision, and for this it should be praised.
There is another part of the article where board member Gelbmann suggests we have the money to do both schedules. We do not. We are looking ahead to a significant budget deficit for the coming school year and into the near future. The state of Minnesota is financially strapped and this will definitely impact the state funding for our school district. It would also not be a prudent decision to ask our voters for more money to support a 4X4 high school schedule that has not and does not produce improved academic achievement.
The charge to a superintendent and school board members is to make decisions that best support the academic progress of our students and to do this within the resources available. I take this responsibility very seriously.
• Were people adequately informed of the proposed changes?
We have been working on transition issues for well over a year. Part of this work involved examining both potential middle school schedules and high school schedules. The high school schedule committee invited 40 people including parents, teachers, students, administrators and two school board members (Leslee Boyd and Marsha Adou) “to review the current high school schedule and evaluate alternatives to assure optimal student learning.”
This group met and forwarded a recommendation to the school board for a change to the 6X3 schedule. The recommendation was shared with the Woodbury High School staff on Sept. 9 and the Park High School staff on Sept. 10. A public school board workshop was scheduled on Sept. 11 to hear the recommendation. At this meeting the school board requested an additional public meeting on Sept. 18 to hear staff and public concerns.
On Sept. 24, the board met again and listened to public concerns prior to voting on the issue. The board altered the recommendation of changing the schedule for the 2009-10 school year to the following year to give more time for everyone to adjust to the change. All of this information was in the local newspapers, as well as the St. Paul Pioneer Press, on our district website and sent out to over 4,000 people that subscribe to the district “list serv” and to all secondary school “list servs.”
• People’s concerns were expressed but not heard.
It is the school board’s job to listen to the public concerns and make the best decision for the students. Just because the board did not vote the way some may have wanted does not mean the board did not listen. It is the responsibility of our elected officials to do what is right and this may not always be what is popular.
The board studied the information, listened to the testimony, read a number of correspondences and made the best decision for our students.
Nelson is School District 833 superintendent and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.